I want to briefly pick up on Lee Mottershead’s excellent column in the Racing Post today. He reports on the demise of coverage for Racing by the London Times. Despite Mark Souster’s excellent reporting of the sport, it seems this important paper will join others in devoting more time to sports like football.
And who can blame them? I’ve said before, and I will repeat as many times as it takes for people to realise something simple about soccer vs Racing.
Real Madrid will face Barcelona no less than 4 times a season. Every week we are treated to marquee football clubs- taking each other on.
Other sports plough on with their formula. The Giants will play the Cowboys twice, England will play Australia in rugby and cricket. Golf will have 4 major events and a sprinkling of others. Federer will face Djokovic several times a year. Who wouldn’t want to cover that?
By comparison, the thought that the likes of Altior should be attempting something a bit more than what he has proved 16 times already, is treated with indignation by some! Like Brexit, views appear equally divided on whether this wonder horse raced on the wrong day at Kempton. Instead of taking on the very best 3 milers in the business, it was felt best, in view of Cheltenham, to afford him yet another ‘prep race.’
Few would have tuned in on the 27th to see the best horse in racing. Far less would have heard of him. They had heard of Kuato Star by now.
By comparison the joint highest rated horse over the flat had an exceptionally moderate season, culminating in a soft ground demolition of horses felt not good enough to tackle Paris, or the Breeders. The fact he had already been soundly beaten by Poets Word and only just managed to overhaul a vastly inferior Salouen at Epsom, seems almost swept under the carpet. British Racing presented the owner with an exalted award, suffice that the pull of stud must have been overwhelming. This kind of ineptitude, a focus on bigging up horses at the dawn of their careers, instead of investing in all age affairs is bizarre in he face of challenges to have people identify with horses, when breeders so routinely remove them from the playing field.
What was the best horse of 2018? How could it possibly be Enable? A fortunate winner of the Arc. It was Winx. The 7 year old darling of Australia. Since 2014- yes folks, 2014, she has been busy beating up all-comers over there. It’s not her performances that dazzle me as much as the reaction of the often huge crowds she draws. The television audiences tuning in to what must be a National treasure. Isn’t that the magic tonic we should seek? Not praising Gosden for denying us Enable for months on end.
When I bang my drum of frustration about the departure of 3 year olds, – juveniles, to stud, more than half the responses i notice, see very little issue with this annual exodus of stars. I wonder at such a blinkered attitude. Why would the sleepy, and perennially incompetent BHA worry about such matters, if so few decry the annual financial pillaging of the sport by breeders for financial gain? Frankel earns more than a day than he ever could on the racetrack in a year. We all know this. I’m quite certain the breeders are well represented at the top table of British Racing. It’s all far too incestuous.
What could be done? Well we could stop over rating 3 year olds. Proclaiming a Derby and Arc winner as all conquering. Because as a four year old, they have it all to prove. Who is to say Sinndar, as an example, in fact met a fairly modest crop? Very often they are quite simply, the best of the year.. Few of the millionaires at the top of race ownership, who so dominate the prizes, put much back perennially. It’s an attitude I struggle to understand. If you’re Khalid Abdullah or John Magnier, why would you not derive more pleasure from the production of the likes of Persian Punch or St Nicholas Abbey. Such horses are the very engine of flat racing. Not Harzand. what are you putting back into the sport in terms of long term, identifiable to the public stars? Shouldn’t that be your legacy to Racing? Not this buffet of 2 and 3 year olds. Right now we can only expect to grow to love such horses if they are not marketable, or capable, at stud.
ITV ratings are up. That’s the story, and we should sign them up again. Well maybe we should. Three jockeys standing round a table incanting ‘it’s amazing’ is the formula they’ve discovered. Indeed it may well be a better product than Channel 4. I’m not convinced either show better than the other. After all, we are discussing broadly the same group of pundits for both shows. We can forget the dismal Opening Show, it’s audiences so low it didn’t merit a slot on Boxing Day. Which used to be one of Channel 4’s flagship morning shows.
Let’s be honest, the real reason why they found 1.1m to watch on Boxing Day was the product on the pitch. At least 6 established stars, and more than 5 runners! Bested by a brand new star in Clan Des Obeaux. It really wasn’t that ridiculous ITV social stable! The same was equally true of the Fighting Fifth and the Tingle Creek, both turned out unusually more competitive than normal. In fact it was Willie Mullins, someone I have roundly criticised for avoidance in the past, that saved both of those heats. Good competitive grade 1 action, with the best available. Shouldn’t we work very hard to deliver on this? Why, for example, will Henderson be allowed to stable his stars for months, as he tends to do, and afforded a spot at Cheltenham? Are we too afraid of such trainers? What’s wrong with mandating their attendance in a series of races prior to the festival? I don’t in any way accept these athletes cannot run from one week or month, to the next. It is complete nonsense.
This BHA, however, led by an ex bookie and indoctrinated by the need to provide a race every five minutes, is leading us down a dull and unimaginative path, at the expense of quality. Nick Rust needs to go racing in Australia when Winx takes the pitch. To grow this sport, he has to find more compelling reasons for Altior to race Un De Sceaux. Not add more races to Chelmsford. We don’t need weak leadership at this time, nor a focus on what’s best for Coral.
Unfortunately the great Paul Nicholls, who’s very ethos was sending horses out to work, is now replaced by Henderson and Mullins. No more Denman vs Kuato Star vs Neptune Collonges. You’ll be a lucky man if John Gosden persuades his owners the best should take on the best. Cracksman only saw Enable around the yard. Are these people not sportsmen first?
One final point. RMG have swooped for Irish Racing from Sky. Racing that often fields competitive fare with three times the number of runners than over here. ‘Split screen Irish’ is the best it can hope for. How marginalised will that great product become? It is indeed fortunate Ascot and Chester have foreseen the danger and leapt towards Sky, to offer balance. It’s a depressing development for Racing. No argument can persuade me Irish Racing should have been sold to RMG.
So the Times have dropped Racing, and who can blame them when one consders how other sports are busy organising for their best to meet as often as possible. The Racing Post, a supporter of Racing, has seen the departure of several notable racing scribes. Is Racing great? Well of course it has great unrealised potential, so much we saw in the King George and a thrilling Tingle Creek. But there’s not enough of such competition. Too many excuses and far too much of a focus on wall to wall betting shop fodder. Why would newspapers want to waste space on that? Is it really worth reporting on Altior’s win on the 27th? Of course not, it’s been done 16 times before. But if he had taken on and likely defeated that King George field? What a story that would have been!
Tony McCoy, said it recently. Perhaps we need to dispense with the impotent BHA’s of this world, and hire one man with vision and ambition. He put up Barry Hearn. Well, if it breaks up the power of the cosy little sect running sport to their own personal ends, I’m all for that plan. And so should you be.